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Infant Mortality Lessons from Finland
How a simple cardboard box decreased Finland’s infant mortality rate to one of the world’s lowest. And what Milwaukee could learn.

Milwaukee has always struggled with a high infant mortality rate. Although numbers released yesterday show a historic low of 9.6 for 2012, the 2012 rate for the African-American community was at 14.6 – representing a third year of increases. (The Journal Sentinel has more on these.)

In Finland, on the other hand, a simple cardboard box dubbed the “maternity package” has played a major role in lowering the country’s infant mortality rate. Back in the 1930’s when the box started, the infant mortality rate was 65. That effectively means that for every 1,000 live births, 65 children died.

The “maternity package” contains clothes, diapers, bedding and toys, and the box itself doubles as a crib. It ensures that children from all backgrounds essentially start off on the same footing. 

The box is available to all expectant mothers, as long as they visited a doctor or clinic before their second trimester. So, the BBC article points out, “the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, but it also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland's nascent welfare state.”

And it seems to have worked. The box is now part of the culture in Finland. And it helped the infant mortality rate by changing the culture:

"Babies used to sleep in the same bed as their parents and it was recommended that they stop," says Panu Pulma, professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki. "Including the box as a bed meant people started to let their babies sleep separately from them."

If that’s not applicable to Milwaukee, I’m not sure what is.

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